When Singapore captain Micky Lin Qingyi leads the team out to face Chinese Taipei on Tuesday (15 December) in the Nations Cup tournament at the OCBC Arena, she will become only the fourth local netballer in Singapore’s netball history to reach 100 caps.
Lin will follow in the footsteps of Premila Hirubalan (113), former captain Jean Ng (111) and Chen Huifen (109). In her own words, achieving centurion status will mark a “good milestone” in her career, one that started with her watching – and idolising – Ng and Hirubalan from the stands and playing with Chen since secondary school.
“I'm privileged to have been in the team for so long and still be useful at this point of time,” the 30-year-old told Yahoo Singapore in jest. “It’s a milestone that any player will strive to achieve so yeah, I’m glad, in a way, that I've survived for so long.”
Lin got started in primary school, when she was tiny in stature and without any thoughts of playing for her country.
“We were a group of friends who were just very happy to drop our bags and run to the court to play,” she recounted. She failed to make the cut at her first national team trials for the Under-17s after playing as a centre.
“But I went back again the next year,” she said. “That was the time I had transitioned to play as a defender, because they found me a distraction in the middle!
“That’s probably where I was supposed to be and it is pretty much how I got into the age groups and went on from there.”
The rise up the ranks for the young, fresh-faced defender was rapid from then, starting with a call-up to the Opens (senior) team in 2004 to replace an injured Ng. Before Lin knew it, the “young punk” was playing alongside her idol.
“From sitting in the stands to having the opportunity to call her a teammate, it was quite surreal,” she said, voice tinged with awe.
Even at that early stage, Ng – local netball’s first centurion – believed it was “just a matter of time” before Lin would hit 100 caps, given the commitment and talent she displayed.
“I remember her as this tall, skinny girl who had a great elevation and an uncanny ability to read the game beyond her years,” said Ng. “We all saw her as having raw talent that would, over the years, be honed to the player she is now.”
Already the U21 captain at that point, Lin’s leadership abilities were apparent. According to Ng, she was “definitely captain material”, citing her ability to discern the time to be firm or to empathise. It was no surprise that Lin, already co-captain by then, succeeded her when she retired in 2012.
Current head coach Ruth Aitken recalled inheriting a “very capable” leader when she took charge in 2013 and has watched Lin’s confidence blossom further since.
“She’s not a noisy one, but whatever she says, everyone hangs on her very word,” she said. Aitken added that Lin is a good listener who helps her teammates “be the best they can be”. “She has a lovely way of getting alongside [teammates], making people feel confident in her but also confident in themselves because she gives off such a confident air,” Aitken elaborated.
“On court, she certainly inspires with her fantastic interceptions, reading of the game… When the attack is in a bit of a pickle, she’ll pop up and call for the ball. It’s like ‘keep calm, Micky’s on board’.” said Aitken.
Fellow defender Hirubalan believes Lin has a knack of knowing exactly how to deal with individuals. For example, during moments when she shows her anger on court, Lin calms her down by telling her to “just smile”.
“It’s not just about [how to manage] the media, but also about how to get respect from your teammates and for me to respect her, given that I’m an older player, I think she has earned it,” the 33-year-old pointed out.
“She says things that make a lot of sense and calm people down. We all respect her and are able to talk to her. For her to get to 100 caps, I feel quite proud, like a proud parent!”
Hirubalan will also gleefully admit she was the one who gave Lin the name Micky. “When she introduced herself (as ‘Qingyi’), I said, I really can’t pronounce that, so I’m going to call you Micky. Her ears have no cartilage, so they stick out, and she looks like Mickey Mouse… Then after that, we had a lot of ang mo (Caucasian) coaches who can’t pronounce ‘Qingyi’ so we all just started calling her Micky,” she explained. And the name stuck.
Injuries and memorable games
Lin would probably have gotten her 100 caps earlier, but for injuries that seemed to plague her early on in her journey. She recalled the heartbreak of getting injured just before competitions she trained hard for, while also joking that the team thought of putting her in bubble wrap as a last resort.
Ankles, knees and even her head was not spared – Lin describes suffering a serious concussion during a game.
“I fell, hit my head on the floor, got up and continued playing. I finished the entire game and then I walked out of the stadium,” she said. How she landed in hospital after that remains a blur.
“I really lost a day of memory and up until now, I still cannot remember what happened that day. Everything I know was told to me by other people.”
She does remember her two most memorable matches. One was in 2011 when they almost upset world number five Fiji on home soil. They lost 57-47 in extra time, but Lin said, “No one expected it to be a close game to begin with and that is probably my hardest game – I've never felt so tired before and I was actually flat after the game.” The second was winning Singapore’s second Asian title against defending champions Sri Lanka in their backyard in 2012 by one point. “The crowd wasn’t very happy with us,” Lin smiles. “I'm glad we made it back!”
How netball changed her life
After being involved in all three of Singapore’s Asian triumphs, a historic SEA Games gold, going to three World Cups, one Commonwealth Games and a host of other international tournaments, Lin has recently entertained thoughts of retiring. At present, Lin juggles training with her day job as an assistant marketing manager at Deloitte, and is also studying part time in a Masters programme.
For now, she has decided to continue on a “by-competition” basis.
She acknowledges netball has changed her life “a lot”.
Describing herself as a “rebellious kid” who grew up in a family with little parental guidance, it was her involvement with netball that kept her on track and mixing with the right kind of people.
“All the other elements around team sports, working with people definitely built the person I am now,” she added.
Another turning point came during her time in polytechnic, when she read an article about netballer Ng graduating from university. It was then she realised the need to take her studies seriously so that she had something to fall back on after netball.
Lin hopes to inspire others, in the same way she was by Ng during her schooling days.
“You never know how your actions could impact a younger generation and that’s how Jean impacted me and I have told her that before,” she mused.
“It is things like that; you look up to people [when you are young] and now, I am hopefully a good representation for the younger generation and am passing it forward.”
--- Additional reporting by Hannah Teoh
Catch Singapore in action at the Mission Foods Nations Cup 2015 from December 13 to 19 at the OCBC Arena. For more information, visit www.netball.org.sg/netball-events/competitions-international/item/1018-mission-foods-nations-cup-2015